Caris LeVert figures to be a key part of the future in Brooklyn, and the Nets must do everything possible to sign him to an extension as soon as possible.
The Brooklyn Nets were undoubtedly one of the biggest winners of the 2019 offseason, adding Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant, and DeAndre Jordan to a promising young core of Caris LeVert, Jarrett Allen, Spencer Dinwiddie, Joe Harris, and others. GM Sean Marks had been planning for this summer since he took over back in 2016, knowing the potential depth of this year’s free agency class. He took risks, such as trading two first-round picks to get rid of Allen Crabbe’s large contract, so that he could create the two max slots which eventually turned into the Durant and Irving signings.
While Marks often preached not skipping steps during Nets’ arduous rebuild, he was willing to trade those picks away largely due to the disparity in quality of players between the 2019 and 2020 free agency classes. Stars such as Durant, Irving, Kawhi Leonard, and Jimmy Butler decorated this year’s list of available players, but players like DeMar DeRozan or Kyle Lowry may be the biggest unrestricted names after Anthony Davis in 2020. In addition, the 2016 draft class will also enter restricted free agency next summer, with players like Pascal Siakam, Jaylen Brown, and Brandon Ingram joining the Nets’ Caris LeVert on the market
Caris finished the year averaging an unspectacular 13.9 points to go along with 3.8 boards and 3.9 assists while slashing .429/.312/.691, but the numbers don’t tell the full story for the Michigan product. After spending the early part of the season as the team’s number 1 option and turning into an early-season Most Improved Player candidate, LeVert suffered a gruesome leg injury in November that kept him out for a large part of the season.
It took a while for him to get back to his old self, but in the playoffs, LeVert once again established himself as the Nets’ best player. He put up 21 points a game during the series against the Philadelphia 76ers, shooting 49.3% from the field and a scorching 46.2% from downtown.
During the playoff seasons against the Sixers, LeVert managed to show his glittering two-way potential as he went head-to-head against stars like Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris. At 6-7 and 204 pounds, Caris has great size for a guard, and can really bother opposing players with his length. Playing alongside Kyrie Irving in the backcourt next season, LeVert will likely be asked to defend some of the more talented point guards and his showing in the playoffs should give the Nets confidence that he can really blossom as a two-way star.
Prior to going down with that season-changing injury, LeVert was averaging 18.4 points a game to go along with nearly 4 assists and had started to emerge as the Nets’ go-to option in late-game situations, hitting game-winners against Denver and the Knicks during the opening weeks of the seasons.
He was doing so even while still struggling for consistency with his outside shot, connecting on just 31.1% of his triples at that point. While it’s not realistic to expect LeVert to match the 46.2% mark he hit during the playoffs, if he can find a happy medium around the 37-38% range, there is no reason why Caris cannot become a 20 point a game scorer.
After converting on 66.1% of his attempts from inside three feet during his first two seasons in Brooklyn, LeVert regressed to only hitting 58.1% of his close-range attempts in year three. While some of that difference came down to his lack of confidence around the rim after his injury, LeVert was still shooting well under that 66.1% clip prior to going down. A full offseason of strength training should go a long way in catapulting him back towards that mark from his first two seasons.
While he has certainly shown flashes of his two-way potential, injuries have been Caris LeVert’s biggest obstacle in the NBA. He has averaged just 56 games a year during his three seasons with the Nets. Injury problems were a concern even during his college career at Michigan, where both his junior and senior years were cut short. But Nets doctor Martin O’Malley, who has operated on both LeVert and Kevin Durant in the past, is one of the best in the business and will surely be consulted before Sean Marks makes any contract decisions on the guard.
It’s a situation somewhat analogous to the one Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors encountered during the 2012 offseason. Hampered by ankle injuries over the course of his first three seasons in the Bay area, Curry went into the summer knowing he was up for an extension. After reviewing his injury history, the Warriors offered Curry a 4-year $44 million deal some eight months before he was set to enter restricted free agency. Rather than gambling on himself and those frail ankles, Curry opted for financial security and accepted a deal that, even at the time, was considered something of a steal.
According to an SFGate article at the time of the deal, Curry said, “Obviously, if you look at other people in my draft class or other people with comparable stats, I might be below their pay grade, but I’m not really concerned with that.” Thanks to his injury history, the Warriors managed to get incredible value for a player who has since turned out to be one of the greatest shooters of all-time.
It was that very deal, in fact, which allowed the Warriors to get Kevin Durant during the cap spike of 2016. Now, I’m certainly not trying to argue that LeVert is going to turn into a unanimous MVP in a few years, but his current market value is probably diminished by the simple fact that he hasn’t been able to stay on the floor all that much.
With players like Terry Rozier and Kelly Oubre Jr. getting deals worth upwards of $15 million annually, the Nets could conceivably convince LeVert and his team to accept a deal in the 4-years $64-70 million range prior to the October deadline.
Even a 4-year $80 million deal would make sense for Brooklyn who have no real options in the 2020 free agency to replace LeVert were he to move—leaving him a little short of the $85 million that Harrison Barnes and Malcolm Brogdon received this summer. Brooklyn will have until October 30 to agree to a deal with their starting guard.
While LeVert would only become a restricted free agent in the summer, meaning the Nets could match any offer sheet he signed with another team, Sean Marks will be well aware of the dangers of letting him talk to other teams. Some of those teams will still have money to spend next summer, and with the dearth of All-Star caliber players available, there could easily be a team that offers LeVert a deal well north of $20 million annually, otherwise known as the “poison pill,” in the NBA.
The Nets, under Marks, have past experience with the “poison pill”. They have, prior to this summer, offered ridiculously lucrative deals to Allen Crabbe, Tyler Johnson, and Otto Porter Jr. during their respective restricted free agencies. The Nets essentially forced other teams to pay these sub-star level players star-level money because they knew that all three teams had to match the deals to avoid losing an asset for nothing. All of these players have since been traded prior to the end of the contract they signed.
A team like the Atlanta Hawks could potentially offer LeVert a huge deal which the Nets, given their win-now mentality and lack of talent to replace him, would have to match. While it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world to pay LeVert big money, especially if he can turn into the All-Star that he has shown flashes of becoming, having him on a little less money would give the Nets the requisite space to keep Joe Harris and Taurean Prince and would maintain flexibility in the future with the pending extensions of Jarrett Allen and, potentially, another deal for Spencer Dinwiddie.
LeVert looks set to be a cornerstone in the backcourt next to Kyrie for a Brooklyn squad that will be title contenders whenever Kevin Durant returns. If he stays healthy and maintains last season’s form, LeVert could, a la D’Angelo Russell, up his value immensely by the end of the season. Russell managed to leverage his stellar season in Brooklyn into a max contract with the Warriors. The Nets would be well served to lock Caris LeVert up to an extension well before he has the chance to do that – the sooner the better.